Monica Hardeman Provides a Home for Lost Horses and Broken Souls

As someone who has endured more than her share of heartbreaking personal pain and loss, Monica Hardeman has turned her passion for horses into a path for healing. The president and founder of Equine Rescue Center, Monica has helped hundreds of abandoned, abused, and neglected horses discover healing, freedom, and hope since her non-profit’s inception in 2009 – and she’s just getting started.

“Caring for and finding new homes for these beautiful souls is my life’s work,” said Monica. “The horses we rescue have been through so much. What I want to do is make their lives as easy as possible from the moment they come to us. I have a broken past, so I understand their need to feel love.”

As the largest horse rescue in California, ERC rescues horses no one wants. In fact, its motto says it all: Home of forgotten horses and broken souls. 

– Tragedy Strikes – 

When Monica’s sister Michelle was murdered in 1995, she understandably found it difficult to process the ensuing pain, anger, and grief. As young girls – Michelle was four years older than Monica – the sisters had bonded together over their love of all things equine. The memories came flooding back, and Monica decided to turn her focus to rescuing abused, abandoned, and neglected horses.

2018 Equine Rescue Center 002-min“My grandfather had a place in Sebastopol and we’d go there all the time,” Monica said. “We were exposed to everything having to do with horses and, as we got a bit older, we started working at a ranch and leading trail rides. Michelle was always with me, and my cousins too, so we developed a strong bond for horses and for each other. We shared a passion, this genuine love for horses, and we enjoyed sharing time together.”

Michelle was 29 at the time of her death. Just 25, Monica returned home from college that tragic day to find her 4-year-old nephew sitting on a neighbor’s doorstep.

“I immediately knew something was really, really wrong,” she said.

Michelle’s murderer was eventually located. He was found guilty following a trial that lasted two years, and is currently serving a 171-year sentence.  

In 2009, Monica founded ERC and has been going strong ever since. The horses provide a type of therapy and continue to help in her recovery process. 

“The only way I can explain this whole thing is it was like the horses saved me; it wasn’t just about me saving them,” she said. “And that’s why I take in those that are the most broken, the ones nobody wants. I know, from my own life experience, that all they need is a second chance.  These horses, like so many of us, just need the chance to learn to trust again.”

– Welcome to San Miguel – 

Along with her life partner, Gabe Pimentel, Monica moved ERC to a large parcel of 166 acres situated in San Miguel in January of 2018. The property owner, who wishes to remain anonymous, offered the space after seeing the plight of ERC to relocate from Northern California to a new location.

Monica Hardeman, Gabe Pimentel, Equine Rescue Center, horses, San Miguel

Photo by Meagan Friberg
Monica Hardeman and Gabe Pimentel of Equine Rescue Center.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Monica said. “Here was this kind lady that I had never met – she was one of our Equine Rescue Center Facebook page followers – offering us the opportunity to bring the horses and all of our equipment to this beautiful place.”

It was meant to be. Gabe’s family has owned property in Parkfield for a long time and the couple often dreamed of moving to the area but couldn’t find space for the horses. In the short term, this is a temporary location although the property owner said they could stay longer. Their long-term goal is to find a larger, more permanent parcel of land for ERC.

“She saved us, really,” Gabe said of the landowner. “When this acreage came up for the horses, and I had the little piece of property for us to stay at in Parkfield, it just all worked out. With the help of some friends, and putting in 16 hour days, we moved 67 horses, eight dogs, our equipment, trailers, tractors, and trucks. But we made it and we just love it here; the people, the wineries, the ranchers, everything about this area.”

– A Place of Their Own – 

As we drive along the property and walk among the rescues, Monica tells the story of each horse – Apple, Merlin, Chula, Flame, Wendy, Razz, Scout, Francesca, Ruby, Orielle, and others in the herd. Monica knows them all by name.

“I gave most of them their names,” she said. “Most often, when we buy a horse at auction or take them in from animal control, they don’t have a name. But I get to know them and usually their names come easy to me.”

The horses come to ERC for various reasons. Some are owner surrenders, or rescued from an auction. The most common source is from animal control agencies throughout California.

“There is such a huge need for rescue and sanctuary for these animals,” Monica said. “There’s Scout; he was in really bad shape when I got him, but now he is fully trained and doing so well. And Ruby – she came from an auction – well, I just knew she was going to be a good horse. Anyone who has ever bought a horse at auction knows you are taking a chance. You don’t know if they are halter trained or saddle trained, but boy do you figure it out fast! So, I saddled her up and she was fine. She is very level-headed and now she helps me train the other horses.”

– Adoptions and Sanctuary –

Over the past year alone, ERC has helped facilitate about 35 adoptions. Each prospective adopter undergoes a thorough screening and detailed application process. 

“We have a lot of adoptions, which is nice because it opens up space for other horses to be rescued,” Monica said. “I am very careful, and I know where all of our horses are. I do drop-ins and, if something isn’t working out I will take the horse back, no questions asked, or issue a refund.”

Visiting the ranch during feeding time, I noticed there are groups – or bands – within the herd. I also noticed several pairs sticking close together.

“We try to honor their bands,” Monica said. “Some are four, some are five; the larger band has about nine – they stick together. One adoption was for a horse and pony that were pals so the people adopted both of them. We get notes, cards, and photos from a lot of our adopters so that’s really nice.”

Horses that have suffered severe abuse have a permanent home at ERC. Senior horses or those with chronic conditions are provided sanctuary, with accommodations for their individual needs.

As one might imagine, caring for dozens of horses can be quite demanding. Throw in fundraising and the business side of running a non-profit organization and it could be an overwhelming task for most. But that’s not the case for Monica and Gabe.

“To me, taking care of the horses is the easy part,” Monica said. “All the other stuff – fundraising, grant writing, marketing, soliciting sponsors – that’s more work. But these horses, they have been through so much. We want to make their lives as easy as possible. These are spectacular animals, and they just want a second chance.”

For more information, or to make a donation to Equine Rescue Center, contact Monica at 831-840-1412, send an email to monica@equinerescuecenter.org, or go to equinerescuecenter.org.

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